Why The Table Read Is Still An Audition

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Booking any role is not a guarantee that you’re going to keep it. This is one of the melancholy facts of this highly fickle business. I have overheard insecure, stressed-out producers whisper in a corner after a table read, saying things like, You still like her? I didn’t like her voice, did you like her voice? She’s got that weird thing with her eye, did you notice that? I’m not sure if she’s going to be able to nail it…

You have to learn how to survive the table read. Think of the table read as meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family over dinner. Sure, your significant other likes you—at least enough to invite you to this family meal, but you still need to win over his difficult siblings, stern parents and weirdo aunts and uncles (who all have their own baggage, scars, and insecurities).

The table read is often one of the most misunderstood parts of the process for actors. A typical table read involves a group of people—actors, directors, writers, producers—

who have sacrificed their time to sit around a table at a designated location to read through the script. Most table reads are an exercise in wasted time and negligence.

There is typically a table with bagels, muffins, fruit and some other craft service items to the side. I would advise you to eat before you arrive so you’re not hungry. The food is a distraction to your performance. I’ve seen actors walk around and network after the table read with food stuck in their teeth and while I’ve never seen any actor replaced because of this… there’s a first time for everything. 

Unfortunately, the table read begins and ends with everyone’s heads buried in their scripts and not looking nor talking to each other. Thus, the awesome potential of the table read to make a deep connection to the text and to the other actors—to really talk and really listen to them—has been squandered due to negligence, ignorance or both. The greater danger to the actor is that many of them arrive at the table read unsure of how big their performance should be, or how small. Should they seem confident and just “go for it” or should they seem confident and give a more subdued, thrown-away performance? 

Follow these 4 Rules of the Table Read to ensure that you give everyone the ironclad reassurance that yes, you are the best actor for the role and that they have all done their jobs to the highest level of excellence in hiring you. And as a bonus, you get to keep the job you worked so hard to earn. 

1. Up and out!

The technical rules of the table read are exactly the same as the cold read. When talking to another person, get your head up and out of the script and actually talk to them. This by no means suggests that you must force hard eye contact—just keep your head out of the script. The same goes when listening. Don’t break the connection to your partner to see what your next line is, but rather keep your head up and out to listen. During the in-between moments, you can scoop the text off of your page with your eyes.

2. One hand on the text

Hold your script in one hand. Holding any script with two hands forces the acting to be from the neck up. As we live in our whole bodies as human beings, acting should be no less physical. Also, a one-handed grip on the script exudes confidence. It shows you’re familiar with the material, and comfortable with the character—so much so that you can free up an entire hand to help convey your performance.

3. Play yourself

It’s important to tap the gas lightly on any intense acting “choices” you have made so that you’re not entering the table read in gear. You want to be in neutral. We do this so that we don’t lose the element of surprise when we’re on set/on stage. The simple rule is this: Keep a little to yourself. In other words, don’t give away your hand at the table read of the brave and fun choices that you’re ultimately going to do on set. Also, there’s a danger of looking green if you’re the one actor at the table read who is weeping real tears, screaming till hoarse, sweating, drooling, dying etc. It’s still a table read.

You’re not expected to deliver 100% all the time. If you’re the one person killing yourself to reach some awful tragic climax, it could very well work against you. Get into the zone of sadness, heartbreak, fury, vindictiveness, annoyance, lust, dysfunction—but just stick one foot in. Save the rest for when you are on set or on stage. 

4. Be scary real

“Out-real” the other actors. Be so real that the actors you’re speaking with cannot tell that you’re “acting.” That said, this does not mean deliver 100% (see #3 above). Be scary real in the sense that you have fully merged with the character and that no one can see the scaffolding of your craft. So take time to prepare and do whatever it is you do that helps you get into character. Have your hook ready. Do everything that you would do before an audition, so that like a musician, you don’t have to think about where you’re putting your fingers on the keys/ strings of the instrument—the instrument being you.

If you follow these four steps, I guarantee you will keep your job. At worst: If the producers get antsy and anxious, your name will not come up as the one that needs to be replaced. At best: you will be the one where other attendees of the table read say, “that so-and-so was great/so perfect/flawless casting.”

This article was originally posted on Backstage.